ESPN's Seth Greenberg is good television, a college basketball studio analyst who is quick with a quip, equal parts smart and self-deprecating, and in his first year with the network, has provided cogent commentary in a highly entertaining manner. Along with Florida Gulf Coast University, Greenberg has been a star this March.
Network executives had high hopes for Greenberg
SI.com interviewed nearly a dozen college basketball broadcasters, writers and network executives last week to get a sense of the most ready-made candidates. The names that came up the most: Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Villanova coach Jay Wright, Kentucky coach John Calipari, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, Kansas coach Bill Self, St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, VCU coach Shaka Smart and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
"I would say without hesitation Jay Wright, Bill Self and Mike Brey because they're not afraid to say something," said ESPN college basketball reporter Andy Katz.
"John Calipari is a TV star," said Fox Sports Media Group executive producer John Entz, who will be hiring college basketball talent for Fox Sports 1. "He has great energy, presence, he's an excellent teacher, and completely understands the media business."
"I think Shaka Smart has a great demeanor and is a wonderful communicator," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. "He has the ability to explain the game in a simple and understandable way. He'd be tremendous."
Greenberg, in an email, also suggested Izzo, Pitino and Self as well as South Carolina coach Frank Martin ("He has a great feel for the game and is very well-spoken. And because of his teaching background, he has a way of making complicated things simple."), Marquette coach Buzz Williams ("A unique personality and is comfortable in his own skin.") and Harvard coach Tommy Amaker ("He has a different perspective as a player and coach; very smart and has a way of making people feel good.")
ESPN senior coordinating producer Jay Levy, who hired Greenberg, said coaches who can provide information and opinions while being entertaining will be successful on television. He cited Calipari, Pitino and Wright, all of whom have served as guest analysts for ESPN.
Bilas offered his choices with the caveat he did not expect any to leave coaching. His Top 5 included Smart, Martelli, Pitino, Brey and Calipari. "Phil Martelli is hilarious and has such a quick wit," Bilas said. "He can be informative and critical and still make it fun. Rick Pitino may be the smartest basketball person I've been around. He would be at the top of any profession, and he'd be at the top of this one. Mike Brey is so likable and so easy to relate to. He's a great guy and that comes through. John Calipari is a great coach, but he's also a great salesman. He'd sell the excitement of the games while informing at the same time. He'd have us all eating out of his hand."
Longtime CBS Sports employees echoed the choices above. Sean McManus, the network's sports chairman, is a Duke graduate and you can bet the CBS/Turner entity would make room on its top NCAA studio team for either Krzyzewski or Pitino (who has worked for CBS Sports in the past) if they left coaching. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was added last weekend by CBS/Turner to join the Atlanta-based studio crew while South Carolina's Martin will work for CBS Sports Television on Thursday and Friday for Sweet 16 coverage. CBS/Turner will likely bring on at least one or two high-profile coaches (likely from teams knocked out of the tournament) to serve as studio analysts at the Final Four.
Krzyzewski was the least surprising name to come up given his basketball resume and public speaking prowess. Would he consider broadcasting after his coaching career ended? "Mike loves to spar but I don't see Mike doing television and schlepping around the country," said Dave Sims, the television voice of the Seattle Mariners, a great game-caller for Dial Global radio on various sports, and the host of the SiriusXM Radio weekly show "Basketball and Beyond with Coach K," where he partners with Krzyzewski. "But I could see him doing studio stuff on an infrequent basis."
Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde, who has covered college basketball for two decades, suggested many of the coaches above as well as Indiana coach Tom Crean (who has done television studio work) and Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy. "He [Eustachy] could have some wildcard appeal -- he does not lack for personality," Forde said.
Along with naming Calipari and Pitino, Entz also had his eye on a young coach. "A guy a little more off the radar I like for down the road is [Memphis coach] Josh Pastner," Entz said. "He's really passionate and a great communicator."
Florida coach Billy Donovan, Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, Butler coach Brad Stevens and St. John's coach Steve Lavin (who used to work at ESPN) were also named. Of course, none of those coaches (or those listed above) are expected to leave coaching (or get fired) anytime soon. "Coaching provides something broadcasting can't - having skin in the game," said Bilas. "Our job is so much easier, but it doesn't have the same thrills."
The Noise Report
1.Though NBCUniversal's coverage of the English Premier League won't debut until August -- the network outbid ESPN and Fox to become the English- and Spanish-language media rights holder across all platforms and devices in the U.S. -- NBC Sports has made its first splashy hire: ESPN UK presenter Rebecca Lowe has been tabbed for the studio host role. She will host the coverage from NBC Sports Group's new International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Ct. after she and her fiancé (former Luton manager Paul Buckle) move to the States this summer from England.
"I will still call it football, I'll still say a penalty not a PK, and a fullback and not an outside back," said Lowe, in an email. "If I start trying to translate in my head, it could get messy. Having said that, living in America will no doubt rub off on me and I'm sure a few Americanisms may creep into my vocabulary over time. I certainly don't want to use words or phrases that the U.S. fans don't understand but I'm sure I'll be told if no one knows what I'm meaning!"
Soccer fans will note Lowe was seen Stateside for ESPN's coverage of the 2012 Euro championships and the Women's World Cup from Germany in 2011. Prior to joining ESPN UK, where she co-hosted live coverage of the Premier League, Lowe worked as a studio host for Setanta Sports and was a longtime contributor to the BBC. She began her sports television career after winning the 2002 BBC Talent Search for a football reporter. Last year she became the
Lowe, 32, said she focused on one or two games a week for ESPN UK but that number will be amped up with NBC's networks carrying multiple games over a weekend. She'll also be in a studio fulltime as opposed to pitchside. How opinionated does she expect to be in the studio role? "It is not for me to be opinionated," Lowe said. "While of course I have opinions on football -- it's impossible not to if you love and care for the game -- it is my job to draw the opinions out of our team of pundits. They are the ones who have played the game and know the intricacies inside out. It is for me to ask questions about why something happened or how it happened, not for me to comment on it.
This won't be the first time Lowe has lived in the U.S. She attended her senior year of high school at the Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) in 1999. Asked what she wanted U.S.-based Premier League fans to know about her, Lowe said, "Just that I'm excited to bring them the best possible coverage, all the storylines and EPL sagas with a committed team who love the game. We hope to be authentic but fresh. I should probably also admit now to my allegiance to Crystal Palace FC. We have a good chance of promotion to the Premier League this season but I promise to be totally neutral if I do end up presenting the Eagles!"
1b. ESPN's coverage last week of the U.S. win over Costa Rica in its World Cup qualifier provided sensational visuals given the game was played in a snowstorm. (The studio team of Ley, Alexi Lalas and Kasey Keller looked as if they were broadcasting from the planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.) Worth checking out is this ESPN Pravda (aka, the network's PR blog) post from
1c. Former MLS and Venezuelan national team player Alejandro Moreno has been added by ESPN to work as an analyst on Mexican National Team and Liga MX matches. He'll also be part of the game coverage with Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman when the U.S. plays Mexico at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. A one-hour pregame program will precede the Mexico-USA match telecast live from Mexico City with host Bob Ley and analysts Kasey Keller, Alexi Lalas and ESPN Deportes' Jorge Ramos. ESPN networks will show 14 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches on Tuesday.
2. CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg sung the praises of Florida Gulf Coast long before it became fashionable. At the CBS/Turner Media Day in New York City prior to the tournament, Kellogg told reporters (including this one) that he thought the Eagles were dangerous. He said the same thing during the Selection show and March 9 after FGCU won the Atlantic Sun Conference,
2a. The CBS/Turner production of FGCU's win over San Diego State on Sunday was terrific, especially the footage following the game showing the Eagles dancing up a storm in the locker room. What wasn't great was analyst Reggie Miller talking incessantly throughout the entire game. The three-person booth in basketball is cluttered enough without a filibuster from one of the announcers. Miller needs to significantly ease off the gas pedal for the round of 16 games Thursday night when he, Kevin Harlan and Len Elmore call Arizona-Ohio State (7:47 p.m. ET) followed by LaSalle-Wichita State. Both games will be on TBS.
2b. The CBS/Turner combined coverage averaged 8.9 million total viewers for the first week of the tournament, up nine percent over last year (8.2 million). The networks said Sunday's coverage averaged 11.1 million viewers, making it the most watched first Sunday in 15 years.
3. Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley said he makes sure not to analyze college players the same as he does NBA players. "They are kids and they are not making millions of dollars," Barkley said. "I make a conscious effort to separate it. The one problem I do have at times is I don't want to try to translate when I am watching a college kid to thinking about how he will be doing in the NBA. That to me is probably my toughest job. Because there's kids who are terrific college players who got no chance of playing in the NBA and I have to make sure that I don't confuse the two."
3a. Barkley also has some thoughts on Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel and the upcoming NBA draft. "The Noel kid needs to stay in school another year," Barkley said. "It's not an easy decision. Obviously, most people are going to take the big kid, but I can't go wrong with [Kansas's Ben] McLemore. I'm not sure who I take if I need a point guard but if I need a two-guard, I take McLemore. I like him a lot. I think [Indiana's Victor] Oladipo is a two-guard. I don't know how well he shoots it but even if he is a legit 6-4, 6-5, I would still take McLemore. I love how hard the kid plays. My shooting guard has to be a shooter and the McLemore kid is a better shooter in my opinion.
[Noel] is not better than Anthony Davis and Anthony Davis is struggling physically. I don't think these guys understand how physically imposing the NBA is. Kentucky had six guys last year and ain't none of the made an impact. Not one. It hurts my game, man. In the NBA, the draft is designed for a bad team to get help. My bad teams didn't get any help. That undermines the integrity of the game. Like as a fan, if my team is sh?y, I will say, 'OK, I got some good young players.' Like I say, I loved all those Kentucky guys, but they're not making an impact in the NBA, and that's not fair to the game. I want to have a good young team if I got lottery picks. And I haven't seen anything from those Kentucky players to say, 'OK, I got a good player going forward."
3b. There are plenty of college basketball purists who don't love Barkley as an analyst but I can't get enough of him on the NCAA coverage. Why? Because he's not beholden to college coaches (or mythologizing them, baby) the way many other analysts do. One example came after Wisconsin was dropped in the opening round. "I have great respect for Coach [Bo] Ryan," Barkley said, "but I don't like the way they play."
3c. As noted by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Bob Wolfley: CBS announcers Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel have called the tournament together since 1998, the longest streak of any of the broadcasting duos currently working the tournament.
3d. The CBS/Turner studio coverage changes this Thursday with analyst Doug Gottlieb joining Greg Gumbel, Charles Barkley, Greg Anthony, and Kenny Smith from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York. Ernie Johnson will host the studio coverage from Turner Studios in Atlanta with analysts Seth Davis and Steve Smith.
3e. For those planning to listen to the Final Four on radio, here's some great news: Bill Walton will be handling the pregame and halftime analysis. The rest of the Dial Global Radio Final Four broadcasting team includes Kevin Kugler (play by play), John Thompson and Bill Raftery (game analysts), Jim Gray (courtside reporter), and John Tautges (pregame/halftime host).
4. ESPN college basketball reporter Andy Katz first interviewed Barack Obama at a Hampton Inn in Dunn, N.C., two weeks prior to the 2008 Presidential election. Five months later, Katz was at the White House after he pitched his bosses on the idea for then-President Obama to pick an NCAA bracket on camera. It has since become an annual interview for Katz (nice gig, eh?) and this year Obama selected Indiana over Louisville (men) and Baylor over Notre Dame (women) for his brackets. (You can check out
"I've been around the President now quite a bit from this year's shoot to interviewing him on the USS Carl Vinson, to a walk-and-talk about Title IX and coaching his daughters, to multiple times playing basketball with him on Election Day, to an interview we did before his election 2008 when I came up with the idea for the bracket," Katz said. "There does seem to be a hush that enters the room when we get the two-minute warning that he's coming down the hall. That's in part because as soon as he comes in the room, we have to be ready to roll."
Katz, who hosts Katz Korner on ESPNU from January to April and co-hosts the ESPNU college basketball podcast with Greenberg, said ESPN sends a dozen or so crew members to the White House for the shoot, including three producers, multiple camera operators and members of the digital staff. They usually arrive three to four hours before the shoot. "We have been in the Library and in the Map Room and in both you can't move any of the furniture, so there are White House staff with white gloves who move things around and put down a tarp over the rugs," Katz said.
Katz said he sees the Obama interview as non-political. "Democrats, Republicans and Independents fill out brackets," Katz said. "I've seen Senators on both sides this month put their brackets out, including at least one who is discussed as potentially being on the 2016 ticket. This works because he has an interest and knows what he is talking about. I think it would have worked if someone had asked President Clinton since he was a huge Arkansas fan and went to the 1994 Final Four in Charlotte. If you went to President [George W.] Bush with a baseball bracket -- that would have been an informative segment, too. I think President Bush would have loved to do something like that during his presidency.
"I can't say what will happen in 2017 and beyond," Katz continued. "It may continue into the next presidency or it may not. Regardless, it will go down as one of the best things I thought of in my career and it's been executed beautifully by our feature team. I don't care who you are and what your political leanings are, going to the White House is a big deal."
5. Showtime will air more than 100 hours of programming across multiple platforms in advance of its upcoming May 4 pay-per-view fight between Floyd Mayweather and Robert Guerrero. Among the programing is a documentary titled "30 Days In May," a one-hour film (April 3, 10 p.m. ET/PT), which chronicles Mayweather's stint in prison last year. Next month, the network will also debut a documentary series (All Access: Mayweather vs. Guerrero) and of interest is the executive producer of the series,
6. Fox Sports announced last week it entered into a 12-year, multi-platform rights deal with the new Big East Conference, starting with the 2013-14 academic year. The agreement grants Fox rights to all conference-controlled men's basketball games, select rights to women's basketball, all Olympic sports and extensive rights for highlights and to produce ancillary programming. Fox Sports 1 will televise more than 100 men's regular-season Big East basketball games next season and the network is also scheduled to carry the entire Big East Men's Basketball Tournament each season.
7. Among the memorable sports reads of the week:
?LA Times writer Ken Bensinger had a fascinating story on UCLA freshman
?ESPNW's Kate Fagan asked an important question:
?SI's Bryan Graham offered the
?Sporting News writer Brian Straus created a major stir in U.S. soccer with his well-reported piece on
?SI's Tim Layden examined
?A non-sports piece all should take note of: New York magazine's Joe Hagan's piece on
8. Turner Sports NBA analyst Chris Webber recently dropped serious praise on Thunder star Kevin Durant: "He has the best handle of any tall player that has ever played," Webber said. "He has a crossover dribble, a step back, a pull back, a step back jumper from the three-point line. His skill-set, along with his height, makes it tough. There's not one man in this world that can check him."
9. ESPN and the current-but-soon-to-be-renamed Big East Conference announced a multi-year rights agreement last week.
10. Miscellaneous: Sports Business Daily reported the final of the World Baseball Classic between Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico was the most-watched sporting event in the Dominican Republic in at least the past 10 years. The game averaged 843,000 viewers in the U.S. on MLB Network, making it the second-best audience on the network for a non-postseason game and fourth-best audience overall.
10a. MLB Network and Showtime host Brian Kenny has added a radio gig to his portfolio: The Brian Kenny Show will air weekdays from 9 a.m.-noon ET on NBC Sports Radio. The network's full launch begins April 1 and here's hoping it finds a place for Chuck Wilson, a longtime pro who ESPN Radio foolishly parted ways with last month.
10b. ESPN re-signed Baseball Tonight analyst Barry Larkin to a multi-year extension. Larkin will also have regular appearances on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball pre-game show.
10b. The NFL announced the Cowboys and Dolphins will play in the Hall of Fame game August 4 (8 p.m., NBC). More than 120 previously elected members of the Hall are expected to be in Canton, Ohio, to celebrate the body's 50th anniversary. It's the largest gathering of NFL Hall of Famers in one place at the same time.